Watchman and Watchtower

Monday, November 23, 2015

Today we are concerned about the horrible acts of violence and murder that are taking place around the world by Islamic extremists. Some wonder how a good God can allow such atrocities to exist. I am reminded that the prophet Habakkuk questioned God about similar atrocities he witnessed from the Babylonians as they attached Judah. Let’s see what we can learn from Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was saddened by the violence and corruption he saw around him and he poured out his heart to God. The book of Habakkuk is the prophet’s dialogue with God. Habakkuk was appalled by Judah's violent acts, evil, misery, destruction. He was also appalled that God tolerated this wrong. Habakkuk saw a dying world, and it broke his heart. He asked questions of God that we often ask:
 If God is good, then why is there evil in the world? And if there has to be evil, then why do the evil prosper? What is God doing in the world?  Why do the wicked seem to be winning? Habakkuk did what often we are afraid to do. He boldly and confidently took his complaints directly to God. Then we see in Habakkuk 2, the prophet waited patiently for God to reply.
I will climb up to my watchtower
    and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.
Habakkuk 2:1
The watchman and watchtower are often used by the prophets to show an attitude of expectation. They are images of Habakkuk’s attitude of patient waiting and watching for God’s response. Stone watchtowers were built on city walls or ramparts so that watchmen could see enemies and messengers approaching their city while still at a distance. Watchtowers were also erected in vineyards to help guard the ripening grapes. Habakkuk wanted to be in the best position to receive God’s message. What are concerns we have today that we should take to the watchtower – things that we need to wait on an answer?
The NIV says in verse 1, “I will station myself.” Station means stay put. It means, ‘I'm not moving.’ It means, ‘I’m going to be still.’ ‘I’m going to sit here and I am not going to move until I hear from you, God.’
How well do you wait?
David says there are three things to do as you wait –
  • Wait quietly -- “I wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” (Psalm 62:5 NLT)
  • Wait patiently -- “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” (Psalm 37:7 NLT)
  • Wait expectantly -- “I wait expectantly, trusting God to help, for he has promised.” (Psalm 105:5 LB)
Sometimes our best act of faith is not to try to answer life’s hard questions, but to reflect instead on the character of God.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Psalm 145:8
These four attributes are mentioned over and over in scripture.
  • Gracious
  • Compassionate
  • Slow to anger
  • Rich in love

When we begin to wonder about God’s presence in the world during times of crisis, let’s remember that we serve a sovereign God who is ultimately in charge of this world. Let’s say these things out loud when you are having trouble and the world seems against you.
  • God is love.
  • God is good. He’s good all the time.
  • God is just.
  • God is holy. In the Greek, to be holy is to be righteous – or to be right. Wouldn’t our lives be easier if we realized that God is always righteous?

Abba Father, Lord of All, O Lord our God, our Holy One, you who are eternal.  We often struggle with what we see in the world. We’re troubled by wars and rumors of wars. We’re heartbroken by images we see of hurting people throughout the world. We often cry out as Habakkuk did, Must I forever see these evil deeds?  Why must I watch all this misery?”  We want to know where you are. Help us to remember our thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways our ways. We know you are a sovereign God, one in total control of all things past, present, and future. Nothing happens beyond  your knowledge and control. At the same time, you give us free will. Help us Father to choose wisely for we know that decisions we make will affect not only us but many others. We also know you are a God of grace. Your grace extends to those who have not earned it. It is undeserved favor. Help us to be still and know that you are at work that you keep your promises, and that you are good and you are love and just and holy. Amen.

Be Silent Before God

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Being silent before God teaches us to rest in Him and enjoy His presence. It gives us an opportunity to meditate on who he is – to stop focusing on ourselves and our own activities. 
    ...let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk 2:20
Occasionally when we sit before God in silence we hear Him speak through thoughts or remembered Bible passages. Solitude is a spiritual discipline.
In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes solitude as a place, both a place in time and a physical place. She says, “solitude is a place inside myself where God’s Spirit and my spirit dwell together in union.”
Solitude is the most basic spiritual discipline. Silence and solitude are very connected.
Silence = letting go of our inner distractions.
Solitude = letting go of our outer distractions.
It is often hard for us to totally unplug and listen to God. Our culture discourages solitude. Culture wants us to always be doing. I suffer from “frenetic doing.”  It’s hard to unplug. These are some of my “noisy” distractions:
·         Phones
·         Technology
·         Email
·         Friends
·         Family
·         TV
·         Computer
·         Radio
·         interruptions

Exodus 14: 13-14 tells us The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still. What in this verse comforts you?

Let’s look at how busy Jesus was. He had more to accomplish in 3 years of ministry than any of us will accomplish in a lifetime. He was changing the world. Jesus consistently found time for solitude and encouraged even commanded his disciples to experience solitude. Imagine the daily life of Jesus for the 3 years of his ministry. He taught, healed, preached, traveled, told stories, dealt with demons, dealt with Satan, was surrounded by crowds of people, settled disagreements among his followers. It was often very challenging for him to get away.
  • He spent 40 days in the desert alone before launching his ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • He spent the night alone in the hills the night before he chose the 12 disciples. (Luke 6:12)
  • When he learned of John the Baptist’s death, he left in a boat to a “lonely place apart.” (Matthew 14;13)
  • After feeding the 5,000 he went into the hills by himself. (Matthew 14:23)
  • After healing many people, he went to an isolated place to pray. (Mark 1:35)
  • When the 12 returned from preaching and healing, Jesus instructed his disciples, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31)
What are some steps into solitude?
Be intentional. Set aside a time and place and spend at least 10 minutes in silence and solitude. Assume a comfortable posture. Select a scripture verse to focus your mind. Then choose a simple prayer to express your need for God.
Be aware of your body, mind and soul. Know when you are weary in body, mind, and soul. Recognize your need to rest in God’s presence. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to relax. Ask God to quiet your mind. Confess to God anything that is weighing on your soul.
Resist distractions. Commit your regular time to God.
Listen for God’s voice. The more quiet time you spend with God, the more you’ll learn to recognize his voice. As you spend this time, pay attention to how God speaks to your spirit. The Holy Spirit will give you comfort and direction only as you’re able to hear it.
Bless others. Use the love God shows you in your solitude to be a blessing to others. Speak and act in love as you serve others.

Prayer: Ask God to quiet your mind. Confess to God anything that is weighing on your soul. Spend time in silence and active listening.

To hear my related lesson on Habakkuk, click here.Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk: Relevant Today

Saturday, October 31, 2015

This book of Habakkuk records the prophet’s dialogue with God concerning the things Habakkuk questions. The prophet Habakkuk was saddened by the violence and corruption he saw around him and he poured out his heart to God.   He was able to ask God hard questions—in this case, he essentially asked, “God, how can you punish Judah for its sins by using Babylon, when Babylon’s sins are even worse.  He goes on to describe what the Babylonians did to their enemies? In Habakkuk 1:15 we read, 
 Must we be strung up on their hooks and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?

Habakkuk fears that the people of Judah will be caught in the nets of the Babylonians and the Babylonians will not be punished. Instead they will rejoice and celebrate. “Nets” for the Babylonians are their gods - gods that give them power, wealth, and control. The Babylonians enjoyed capturing people because the captors helped them live in their pleasures. The more people they conquer, the more powerful and wealthy they become. It’s a game of power. The Babylonians love to gather their prey.

Do we get caught in nets today? Are there things that trap us and control us? Do we get caught up by things that love to make us captive? Are we tempted by nets of fame, fortune, power, greed, beauty, wealth? Are we trapped by what we traditionally call the seven deadly sins -  pridegreedlustenvygluttonywrath and sloth?

It happens too often that I am tempted by the hooks and nets of fashion and beauty. I love beautiful clothes and dressing in the latest colors and fashions. I also know full well that I have a closet and makeup drawer filled with everything I really need, yet I’m often caught by the hook and pulled into the net of fashion and beauty.

It happens too often that I spend too much time trolling social media sights looking at the latest happenings on Facebook and seeing the trends on Pinterest. I know full well that I can easily be caught in the trap of more, more, more by what I see.

It happens to often that I sit in front of the TV watching too much of 24 hour news cycle and other programming that just really doesn’t add to the value of my life.

Let’s pray that when ”hooks and nets” tempt us, we will recognize the temptation, consider what really adds value and meaning to our lives, and then choose wisely.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

Heifer or Lamb?

Monday, October 12, 2015

In Hosea 4 the prophet Hosea tells of the moral and spiritual decay of Israel. He describes the punishment that awaits the people and pleads with them to return to God. Verse 16 says, Israel is stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. In the next chapter Hosea says the leaders of Israel are so stubborn, “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God.” I wander if God looks at us, and thinks, “Yet another generation of stubborn heifers!” Heifers have consequences to their stubbornness. Farmers have to put cumbersome yokes and sometimes painful constraints on stubborn heifers. What are the consequences of stubbornness when it comes to our own moral or spiritual decay? Now look at the contrast to the stubborn heifer in the next part of verse 16 - So should the Lord feed her like a lamb in a lush pasture? Unlike the stubborn heifer, lambs are known for their willingness to follow the shepherd. Are you are heifer or a lamb? What are potential consequences for us as individuals, churches, cities, and a country for our immoral stubbornness? Think about steps you might take to become more like a lamb who is willing to follow the Great Shepherd.

Personal Worship: Read Psalm 23 and meditate on God as a shepherd who will guide, comfort, and love you.

Prone to Wander

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Message version of Isaiah 53:6 says, “We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.” This verse reminds me of the lines in the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:” “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it— Prone to leave the God I love.” When we’re prone to wander we have a natural tendency to stray from the path we’re on and go toward another path. Think about times you’re prone to wander. Let’s imagine we are walking down a path in the woods headed toward a beautiful lake. What might make us stray off the path? We want to find a shortcut. We get distracted. We lose our way. Someone entices us to go another way. We get frustrated and discouraged because the path seems to get hard. We find a seemingly easier path. Another path looks better than the one we are on. How does this relate to our faith wanderings? How do people wander from their faith? What times in life are you most likely to wander? The hymn continues with words of restoration, words of returning to the faith. “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” Isaiah tells us Christ came to restore us and make us righteous. When we wander, let us be mindful to our way back on the path and then to go his way.

Take a few minutes to worship by listening to "Come Thou

Conquer Your Fears

Monday, August 24, 2015

In his book Simplify, Bill Hybels provide great insight to conquering fears. He says we all have certain fears that others might find funny or irrational; but they are real fears, debilitating fears, fears that keep you imprisoned to Satan’s lies, and they are anything but funny.

Constructive Fear – Anxiety while driving an icy road; fear might keep your foot light on the pedal; fretting over a huge presentation at work. A little fear may help you value an opportunity. It motivates you to fasten your seat belt or pay taxes.

Destructive Fear – fear that is baseless, useless, and crippling. Doesn’t protect us from reasonable dangers or all us to ponder eternity with a serious mind. It nips away at our emotional well-being, cluttering and complicating our lives by erecting false barriers in our work, our relationships, and even our recreational pursuits.

Getting Freedom from Fear

1.     Understand fears origin. Dr. Wolpe, a 20th century S. African psychiatrists studied origins of phobias.  For example, public speaking tops the list of the most common phobias. He discovered that almost everyone who experiences high degrees of fear about speaking in front of an audience can recall a time when they gave an oral book report in elementary school, or a 3 minute talk in a 7th grade speech class – or a similar time when all eyes in the room were focused their way – and somebody laughed or the talk didn’t go well – or the teacher embarrassed them in some way. From then on, the thought of speaking in public has caused fear and trembling.  When we peel back all the layers of self-protection that cover up these destructive fears, we often find one or two significant events at the core.

2.    Expose Fear’s Lies –  Fear begins with a thought that starts to escalate. The technical term for manufacturing worse-case scenarios is catastrophizing. The evil one loves to help you spin your worst-case scenarios, because they consume, distract, and derail you. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:14 Fear thrives on deceit. Expose the lies that fuel your fears.

3.    Face Fear Head-On – Avoiding fears cause them to escalate. The power of fear begins to diminish when a person takes the time to understand its origins, expose its lies, and face it head on.

“One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it.” Winston Churchill

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

To face your fears:  talk to friends, replay your memories of the past, journal, write, go to a counselor, get to the root. Then “do the thing you think you cannot do.”

4.     Speak Words of Truth – Speak truthfully when fear starts grabbing the wheel of your mind.

Types of Truthful Words

1.     Self-Talk – You can tell yourself you are going to fail OR you can use truthful words. Say all the truthful positive things you know about yourself and the situation. Speak firmly to yourself. When you are overwhelmed by fear and begin to “go there” with the fear, say out loud: “Stop it!” Stop manufacturing your worst case scenario. Ask, “What strengths do I possess that will help me say no to this fear?” What is the logical truth that most people believe about this fear? (Ex:  The elevator is safe; Most dogs are friendly)

2.    Scripture -  use the passages that give you comfort. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

3.    Prayer – Pray firm, bold prayers of expectation. Not vague, benign prayers.

Adapted from Simplify by Bill Hybels – Chapter 6.

Joyless Reaction or Joyful Response

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Apostle Paul tells us that living a joyful life is God’s will for us.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Even though it is God’s will, he still gives us the free will to choose it or reject it. We have the free will to determine how we respond to every situation we experience. Every opportunity we have is an opportunity to think joyfully.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. James 1:2

Often we think of joy as a destination. We often ask, “How do I find joy.” What if…joy is not a destination, but the path we choose each day?  How does that switch your thinking?  What if joy is not something you get? Here is the truth: joy is not something that you get or find. Joy is something you choose.

Situations that affect our joy can range from a personal slight to a full on personal attack. They can include situations where others have tried to rob us of joy or they can be situations where we sabotage our own joy. Perhaps you’ve been short or snappy with someone. Perhaps you’ve gossiped or criticized someone. Perhaps someone has done you an injustice. Perhaps someone disagree with you. Perhaps someone you love makes bad choices. Each of these scenarios affects our joy.  I have experienced the full range of joy robbing. These situations can try us, they can cause us to stagger in our faith, they can cause us real physical ailments, they can cause us to temporarily move into our cave of despair, but the essential question is, will we allow these situations to rob us of our joy? When the joyless thought enters your head, you get to decide how long it stays there. That length of time will create either a joyless reaction or a joyful response. That length of time will shape your hour, your day, and often your month and your life.

When the bad thought enters your mind, replace it by following these steps.
1.    Rename  – Tell yourself this thought is a negative, bad, ungodly, or unkind thought
2.    Re-frame  – Focus on a positive or distracting thought
3.    Redirect - Change your actions to something uplifting, fun, or engaging.

With each situation, we choose how to think, speak, and act. We can choose to have a joyful response or a joyless reaction.

What I can tell you from my own personal experiences with situations that can steal or joy is that…
the sooner I completely let God give me his strength and wisdom,
·      the sooner I completely let God give me his strength and wisdom,
·         the sooner I determine my responsibility in the situation,
·         the sooner I make right any wrong I have caused,
·         the sooner I am proactive instead of reactive,
·         the sooner I take realize what I can control and what I can’t control,
·         the sooner I get a handle on my emotions, my thoughts, and my actions,
·         the sooner I ask myself “what is the truth of this situation?” and then deal with the truth,
·         the sooner I seek wise counsel,
·         the sooner I stop dwelling and ruminating,
·         the sooner I make deliberate choices to switch my thinking,
·         the sooner I act in loving, positive ways,
·         the sooner I heed Jesus’ advice as found in Matthew 10:14, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet,”
·         the sooner I decide to live forward and not backward,
·         the sooner I examine how I can grow in this situation,
·         the sooner I realize that people have a right to have different opinions, ideas, and choices and being different doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong,

…then the sooner I will dwell in joy.

 To hear a one hour audio of my lesson on How to Live a Joy-Filled Life, click here.
How to Live a Joy-filled Life

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